Category Archives: Research

How to mine for resources

How to mine for resources

by Zoë Mahler


It’s Week 3, which means all our first papers are starting to pop up. The first step of every great paper is knowing you have the resources to back up your claims. But the first step may also be the most difficult one as well.

Finding good information from reputable sources can be tricky. We’ve all been in a situation where we find that one really good source. It’s easy to think, “This is really all I need.”

Well … not quite.

There’s been a pattern for me: Each paper I write is usually going to need at least five or so sources. But what do you do when you find that One Great Source and don’t want to look anywhere else? Bibliography mining might be your best bet.

Something I often forget when reading through the articles and books I’ve found is that the information I’m finding has already been compiled from multiple sources. At the end of every scholarly source – article, book, book review – you’ll find the bibliography of sources from which the author of your source already did his/her research.

So why not just take a peek there?

When I’m in a pinch to find more resources, I’ve become accustomed to finding the footnotes or in-text citations from the areas of an article that I’ve used the most, and then flipping to the bibliography to see where that information is originally from. Within that bibliography, it’s much easier for me to narrow down what articles and books I can use to continue to acquire the number of sources needed for each paper.

It’s only Week 3, so hopefully, with these tips and tricks on how to find reputable resources with the information you’re looking for, you can use this method of bibliography mining to ace the rest of your papers through the rest of the spring semester. Happy mining!


Zoë Mahler is a senior with a double major in art history and mass communication and minors in religion and sociology. This past summer she traveled abroad in the Wales and Malta program studying archaeology.

Perfecting your paraphrasing

by Dean Colarossi

In academic writing, students rely on other people’s words to make arguments, refute claims, and prove their points. Evidence comes in many different forms—in books, online, and even through audio—and writers need a way to capture this information and give proper credit to the author. In my experience, I sometimes realize that a quote just won’t cut it, so I choose to paraphrase instead. It is worth noting that paraphrasing means taking an author’s idea and translating it into your own words. This means that you must restructure your sentences, vocabulary, and even paragraphs to be different from the original writing.

A common misconception is that paraphrases do not require a citation. They do!  In fact, you must cite a paraphrase the same way you cite a quote or summary. Let’s see an example of how to paraphrase a quote. Here is one of my favorite quotes from Arnold Schwarzenegger—

“While you’re out there partying, horsing around, someone out there at the same time is working hard. Someone is getting smarter and someone is winning. Just remember that.” (

This quote, paraphrased, looks like this:

          Think about this: Someone is always working to better themselves, even when you are going out, enjoying yourself, and causing mischief. (

Note that the entire structure of the quote has changed because it is not a quote anymore! It is a paraphrase, and we still give credit to Mr. Schwarzenegger for his insightful idea.

Here are a few steps to make the paraphrasing process easier to understand:

  • Read the passage you wish to paraphrase
  • Try to ponder until you fully understand the quote you wish to paraphrase.
  • Look away from the original words and write the ideas down (on paper).
  • Compare your words to the author’s words. Ask yourself: Do my words convey the meaning of the author’s point?
  • Cite your author to credit them for their idea.

Happy paraphrasing!


Dean Colarossi is a business administration and economics major and competes for the Principia track and field team.


Space: Why the environment you work in matters

Do you have a favorite place to get homework done? Is the place you study the same place you go to hang out with friends? Let’s face it. We’ve all had nights where we want to sit and socialize, but also have mounds of work to get done–and getting together with friends tends to check the socialize box while completely derailing the homework train. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in college, it’s to separate where I work from where I play. Otherwise, I’m risking getting distracted and severely minimizing my productivity. But guess what?! There’s a way to have a productive space, while also creating a fun, comfortable environment. It’s called a WISE workshop.

WISE stands for Write-In SEries. It’s a place created to help students through the writing process, whether you’re in the brainstorming phase of your FYE paper or polishing up your senior capstone. WISE workshops happen throughout the semester in the third-floor library classroom.

When you come to WISE, you’ll find one fantastic research librarian, one stellar Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) faculty, and one trained peer writing tutor. You can ask for help, but you don’t have to. There’s ZERO pressure! There’s no requirement for silence (and it rarely is completely quiet), but there are options for silent study/writing if you need. You can get help with any writing assignment you can imagine, or you can just sit and work solo. You can even work on other projects (like art, or math, or anything you need).

What makes this work? You’re in a stress-free environment where people are casually chatting and enjoying their time, but they’re all getting work done–even the faculty! It’s more fun than studying alone, but far more productive than getting together to “do homework” with friends.

So, come to WISE! Work on anything you desire and know that there’s help (and cookies!) at the ready. See you there!

Brooke Engel is a senior. Last time she wrote a blog she had two majors and one minor. Now she only has one major–art. People change. She still loves dogs.

Making the most of your research resources

by Marie Sherman

Now that the semester is over halfway through —crazy how fast time flies—it’s getting to be that time where lots of research papers are being assigned. A big question that I often ask myself when I first see a new research paper assignment is, “How do I even start my research?”

At Principia, we have access to thousands of resources to use, both in print and online. Rather than facing the challenge of not having enough material to research, we often deal with the problem of having too many places to find information. It can certainly be easy to feel overwhelmed! There have been many times where I have found myself wondering how to know what resources to use, how to sort through all the potential sources, and how to find information within a source!

I’ve found that the answers to these questions can vary from paper to paper. But if you’ve ever wondered any of these questions as well, hopefully this post will give you some helpful strategies that you can apply to your own writing. That way you can lose the feeling of information-overload and rock that research paper! 

A great place to begin is by reading any information you’ve been given about your assignment. Check to see if your professor has given you any specific research materials to use or tips on where to find information. For many classes, the library sets up a “Course Guide,” which is a  web page  on the library website that provides links to possible sources you can use both throughout the semester and for your particular research project.

If you don’t have a “Course Guide,” or are still feeling stuck, take a look at the library website and decide whether it will be more helpful for you to find books, journal articles, news articles, or dictionary and encyclopedia entries connected to your topic. You can make this decision first based off of what materials your professor has required for the paper (sometimes they specify if they want a certain number of peer-reviewed journal articles, books, news sources, etc.). If you don’t have any specific requirements or suggestions, try to think about what type of sources you use in your class, or ones you’ve had the most success using before.

Once you know what type of source you want to use, the best way to find information is by typing in different keywords related to your topic to find the sources that connect the best! If you can’t find anything by doing specific searches, try using general keywords at first.

When you’ve found some general material, you can dive deeper and gather the specifics. If you’re using online sources, it can be very helpful to do searches for certain words within the source to find what you’re looking for. The more specific search terms you use, the less time you’ll have to spend sorting through thousands of useless articles just to get to the one helpful one. Set up an appointment with a research librarian or a writing tutor to get extra help with search terms!

Oftentimes, you just need a few good research sources to get you started and make sure you feel like you’re on the right track. The more experience you have with doing this, the easier it gets. And don’t forget, if you ever need help with research, your friendly neighbourhood writing tutors are always here to help!


Marie Sherman is a sophomore at Principia College studying education and global studies. When not writing, she is probably running around campus or dancing!

Using resources to find your voice

by Zoë Mahler

So it’s Week 4 and your first paper is coming up. You’ve gone to the Library Session and learned about the resources you’ll need to make your paper amazing. You went on JSTOR and found an article, and you’re feeling good! You’re reading this article with a highlighter in hand thinking, “How could someone write something so perfectly for me?! This is exactly what I needed!”

But then you sit down to actually write the paper. The article you read was so amazing and had everything you needed but… now you have to write something of your own. No matter how experienced you are as a writer, you know we’ve all been here at some point. Sometimes we just feel we could quote an entire article because it’s never going to be any better than that, right?

This, my friend, is why we go back to the databases and dig a little deeper. Though you may feel that the first article you found was a gold mine of information and you agree with everything that’s been written, maybe now it’s time to find an article that has a different perspective or words the subject a bit differently. When you’re reading multiple resources from multiple authors and publications, it’s easier to compile data in your own unique way. How do the articles coincide with one another? How do they not? Is there room for some comparing and contrasting?

This leads me to my takeaway message: The more sources you find, the more you actually find your own voice. Learning how to establish your voice by researching articles early on in the year will help you in the long run as you will be more and more practiced at finding your voice, as well as using databases as a resource! If you need any help finding more resources on your topic, or if you need a more in-depth lesson on how to use the databases, your tutors and librarians are here to help you! 


Zoë Mahler is a senior double majoring in art history and mass communication with a minor in religion. She is from Faribault, Minnesota, and plays on the beach volleyball team in the spring.

Annotated bibliographies: assets to the writing process

by Bailey Bischoff

Writing annotated bibliographies can seem like busywork. After all, if you found the article or data from a reputable source, why do you need to talk about its validity? However, annotated bibliographies can be used for much more than just proving a source is valid and relevant. Annotated bibliographies are one of the best ways to getting a jumpstart on writing a paper.

What is an annotated bibliography, and why is it so useful? Let’s break it down. Each annotation should include a summary of the source, an evaluation of the validity of the source, and the relevance to your eventual paper.

1) Summary: The summary should detail the content of the source, as well as the purpose and intended audience. Through describing the source and intended audience, you will start to get a better idea of how the source will fit into your paper. The more you know about your sources, the more you will be able to easily incorporate them into your paper!

2) Validity: Evaluating the validity of the source is essentially an argument that your paper will be supported with the right kind of information and can help you identify whether or not you have a good variety and number of sources needed to write a thoroughly researched paper. This section includes gauging the author’s bias and authority, which means you might have to do some background research on the author. Also, take into consideration when the source was written and whether that affects relevancy to your topic.  Understanding the scope of your research (and identifying any holes) can save you from doing last-minute research after writing your paper, only to find that it your paper wasn’t as well-researched as you had intended.

3) Relevance: Establishing the relevance of the source is really just summarizing the value of the source to your specific project or purpose. Writing on the relevance of the source forces you to think about how the information it provides fits into your paper. Touching on the relevance in an annotation can get you thinking about the organization of your paper, an important pre-writing step which will help your paper flow together better.

Summarizing and evaluating the relevance and usefulness of each source gets you to think about how each source will fit into your paper. After writing an annotated bibliography, you should be ready to write an outline and identify where more research is needed. Instead of being an unnecessary, meaningless task, writing an annotated bibliography is a great way to start writing a well-rounded, thoroughly researched paper!


Bailey Bischoff is a political science major in her senior year of college.

Unlocking the secrets of databases

by Jessica Barker

Now that the semester is in full swing, many of us are beginning to think about upcoming research papers. Unfortunately, the task of researching can sometimes seem daunting, especially when you are trying to find information about an unfamiliar topic. Luckily, there are three simple database search tools you can use to help make the research process a breeze!

  1. Proximity Operators

A proximity operator is a tool that you can use to find articles that contain your search terms within a certain number of words of each other.  Some examples of proximity operators are W/S (within sentence), W/P (within paragraph), W/# (i.e. W/3 is within 3 words), and N/# or NEAR # (i.e. N/5 or NEAR 5 means near 5 words of each other). To use a proximity operator, all you have to do is place the operator in between your search terms and click the search button. Some databases, like JSTOR, even have a preset list of proximity operators that you can choose from!

  1. Truncation

Truncation is the act of breaking a word into its simplest (root) form and putting either an asterisk (*) or an exclamation point (!) after it, in order to find articles that contain any form of that particular word. By doing this, you are able to broaden your search results. For example, if you were to type the word “education” into a database, you would only get articles that contain that exact word. However, if you were to truncate the word education to Educat* you could get search results that contain the words “education,” “educating,” “educated,” etc.  Although truncation is normally helpful, truncating a word too early can broaden your search results too much. For example, if you were searching for articles on economics and you entered Eco* into the search bar you may end up with articles that are related to ecology rather than economics.

Note: Use an asterisk (*) in most databases, but not all; in LexisNexis you need to use an exclamation mark (!) to truncate. 

  1. Phrase Searching

Phrase searching allows you to find articles that contain specific phrases. This narrows your search results and helps you find more articles that are related to your topic. You can use phrase searching by putting quotation marks around the phrase that you want to search for. For example, if you type “writing tutor” into a database you will get results that contain that exact phrase. However, if you type the words writing tutor into a database without quotation marks you may get search results that only contain one of those words (writing or tutor).


Happy researching!

Jessica Barker is a sophomore majoring in theater and minoring in sociology and anthropology. After college she hopes to use theater to create social change, and empower others.


Bet you haven’t heard of THIS library resource!

by Maddi Demaree

Many of you have probably been to a session with one of our dedicated librarians before, going over databases, citing, or maybe even plagiarism. But there are SO many excellent resources that our library subscribes to, I’m sure you didn’t get to all of them in your library session. Here is a glimpse of some unique resources that you probably haven’t heard of, but might be just the thing to meet YOUR academic research needs!

Just a reminder, all of the library’s resources can be found here:

Lexis Nexis

If someone broke up with Google, and wanted to get a sleeker, more mature version of their ex, they would date Lexis Nexis. Lexis Nexis is like Google—except more focused, more reputable, and more efficient. Everything Google can do, it can do better.


Lexis Nexis is especially helpful for finding reputable news sources, legal cases, and business information. In the search bar, you can look for recent topics in the news—like the ones listed in the “hot topics” section—but you can also narrow your search by clicking on the “legal case” search or “company info.”

Merriam Webster

Did you know that Principia subscribes to Merriam-Webster unabridged? Say goodbye to all those pesky searches that don’t give you all the definitions you might need, and say hello to Merriam-Webster unabridged! Here you’ll find that you can search in the unabridged or collegiate dictionary, in the thesaurus, in a concise encyclopedia, and more. You can also search for the etymology of a word or examples of how it is used.


Music Online

Music Online is an incredible resource for anyone in a class in the arts—here you have access to all those videos that get taken down from YouTube for copyright restrictions! You can search by title, subject, composer, performer, choreographer and more.


Access Science

Access Science provides resources for all of the sciences. It is helpful to everyone from the person taking astronomy to eke out their lab credit (you know who you are!) to the seasoned Bio Block TA.


In Access Science, you can search by topic, by discipline, and by type of resource.


These resources are just a few among the many excellent resources we receive free of additional charge from our library! If you need help accessing or navigating databases, remember that your Principia College Writing Tutors are available Monday-Thursday from 9-11 in the library café. Members of the Center for Teaching and Learning and our dedicated librarians are always available by appointment.

Maddi Demaree is a junior majoring in education. Last spring she traveled on the Finland Abroad.

Master the mechanics of quote integration

by Haley Schabes

When writing a paper, it is important to integrate the quotes you are using correctly. You never want to just “drop” a quote into your paper. Dropped quotes interrupt the flow of your paper and risk leaving your paper without a sense of cohesion.

There are four ways to correctly integrate a quote into your writing:

  1. Introduce it with a complete sentence and a colon (:)
  2. Use an introductory phrase and a comma (,)
  3. Include the quote as part of your sentence without punctuation
  4. Use only small snippets from the quote in the flow of your own sentence


Now this might be a bit hard to understand, so let’s give some examples for each:

How to introduce a quote with a complete sentence and a colon:

In Experience and Education, John Dewey explains that failure is important to learning: “Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes” (Salkind 393).

Notice: If you use a complete sentence to introduce a quote then use a colon (:) before you place the quote. Don’t be tempted by a semicolon or comma.


How to use an introductory phrase and a comma:

John Dewey explains the importance of failure in learning when he says, “failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes” (Salkind 393).

Notice: Place the comma between the introductory phrase and the quote. You can introduce the quote using verbs such as says, states, believes, asks, questions, and many others.


How to include a quote without punctuation in a sentence:

In Experience and Education, Dewey explains that “failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes” (Salkind 393).

Notice: The word “that” replaces the use of the word “says” from the previous example. If you use the word “that,” you do not use a comma in the sentence to introduce the quote.


Finally, here is an example of how to use snippets from a quote in your own sentence:

Dewey explains that failure is not an obstacle for “a person who really thinks” but is “instructive” (Salkind 393).

Notice: You do not need punctuation if the quote fits into the flow of your own sentence.

WARNING: In all of the above, you do need to CITE the quote. For more on citing and quote integration, click on the “citation” category at the top of this post and you’ll find more posts and lessons on the subject.

Happy quoting!

Haley Schabes is a senior majoring in business administration and minoring in education, economics, and Asian studies. Her current aspiration is to teach English abroad after college.


Works Cited: Salkind, Neil J. “F.” Encyclopedia of Educational Psychology. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2008. p. 393. Google Books. Web. 16 September 2016.

Make this database search your best yet!

by Maddi Demaree

Has anyone else had that sinking feeling when you type your search term into a database and there are thousands of results? Or the fear that strikes through your heart when only a couple resources about your topic pop up? While we have a wealth of scholarly information at our fingertips thanks to the Principia College library online database system, sometimes it can feel like too much!

I’m sure none of you have the time or the desire to sift through thousands of articles and books on your topic—so why not let the computer do your work for you?

There are three special words (AND, OR, and NOT) called “Boolean Operators” that will help you narrow or broaden your search quickly and easily. Utilizing these words as part of your search terms will inform database more specifically about what you’re looking for.

I’ll give you a few examples of how to use each word.

AND – narrows your search

You use “AND” to specify two terms that you want to appear in the same article. For example, if I am writing a research paper about domesticated cats, I might make this my search term:

cats AND domestic

               OR—broadens your search

You use “OR” if your initial search did not produce enough results. Using “OR” will bring up all the resources for both of your search terms. For example, if I am writing a research paper about the realist theory in political science as applied to the Gulf War, I might search with

“realist theory” OR “gulf war”

so that I can find all the resources on realist theory and on the Gulf War.

NOT—narrows your search

You use “NOT” to specify a term that you do not want to appear with the rest of the results. This is probably a pesky term that is not actually related to the topic you want to research. For example, if I am writing the same paper about domestic cats, but resources about jungle cats keep appearing, I might search:

cats NOT jungle

This search would keep resources about jungle cats from appearing, because it is telling the database to look for all the resources about cats, but to exclude any resource that mentions “jungle” cats.

Using these three terms will help you refine your searches to make them efficient, effective, and, your best one yet!

Maddi Demaree is a junior majoring in education. Last spring she traveled on the Finland Abroad.